The Layperson’s Loop: Visit Nine Bangkok Temples in One Day.


From the narrow ramparts of Wat Arun, one of Bangkok’s most prominent temples on the Chao Phraya River, the view east (below) reveals almost as many temple ‘stupas’ or ‘chedis’ as skyscraper rooftops.

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View east from Wat Arun. The Golden Mount visible (wrapped in red silk in background).

As a westerner familiar with Thailand’s custom of merit-making – this could be offering alms to monks, sharing the dhamma (Buddhist scriptures) or helping in the repair of a temple through a donation, one of the more challenging ways to make a clearer path for yourself (and most probably others) is to visit nine temples in one day. It’s a fascinating way to see the sights of Bangkok.

As a visitor to Thailand you may want to visit the largest temples on your plan of nine, such as Wat Pho, famous for the giant reclining Buddha and Wat Phra Kaeo in the Grand Palace housing the emerald Buddha. Both of these very popular sites have entrance fees and get very crowded. Hiring a taxi for a group of four may well be the best option if fitness is an issue. You can alternate between walking and taxis of course.

Why nine temples and not seven or five you may ask? Thais pronounce the number “9” เก้า as “kao” which is a homophone (similar sounding word) of  ก้าว “kao” which means to step and to progress. Thus, they believe that the worship they show to the Buddha at nine sacred temples will bring prosperity to their lives. To complete each temple visit pay respects to the Buddha image in the main ‘Bot’ or worship hall.

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Since ‘I’ve been here for over three years and this is my second ‘nine’, I attempted to find some of the more discreet temples on foot. My itinerary went like this:

1. Wat Ratchanadda- Loha Prasat (Banglamphu) / start 9am
2. Wat Saket – Golden Mount (Banglamphu)
3. Wat Arun (Thonburi)
4. Wat Kalayanamit (Thonburi)
5. Wat Prayoon (Thonburi)
6. Santa Cruz Church (Thonburi)
7. Chinese Temple – Khuan Yin Shrine (Thonburi)
8. Wat Molilokkayaram (Thonburi)
9. Wat Chanasongkran (Banglamphu) / finish 4.30pm

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View from Wat Ratchanadda- Loha Prasat – towards the Golden Mount.

Planning is necessary but overall:
a. You’ll never be short of places to eat and drink;
b. Most temples are within walking distance from each other;
c. Allow for serendipity. In my opinion, this is part of the ‘plan’; and
d. You can visit them in any order you wish, at any time. This should be enough to tempt you away from the mall.

You can travel on foot which gives you the advantage of discovering new sights you never knew existed – this is a trick I’ve always relied upon to immerse myself in the culture of whatever country I am in (avoid getting lost).

We came across the Portuguese Catholic Church of Santa Cruz and an old Chinese temple of Khuan Yin Shrine (below) near the riverside in Thonburi. The shrine is over 200 years old and in the care of a local family. The worn wooden beams peeling red create an intimate setting as aromas emanate from swirling incense. We broke with tradition and included these two finds as the sixth and seventh place of worship. Following the Chao Phraya River keeps you oriented and allows for boat travel.

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Serendipity. Entrance to Khuan Yin Chinese temple. Discovered on foot alongside the Chao Phraya River.

Your transport options: as a passenger on the narrow, barely splash proof, longtail-style canal boats, enjoy the relief of air-con on the BTS train network, attempt pillion on motorbikes or give up and dive into a taxi.

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It’s the journey, not the destination (well, equal in this instance). Ferry to Wat Arun, Chao Phraya River.

Bangkok ‘s 40-odd temples from a total of over 40,000 around the country give discerning merit-makers the option to enjoy the best architectural temple delights Bangkok has to offer.

I included a UNESCO Conservation Heritage Award Winner 2013 on my itinerary. I’ve always wanted to see inside a stupa or chedi, and now members of the public can admire the astonishing repair work of Wat Prayoon (below).

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The interior of Wat Prayoon (visited fifth), a UNESCO Conservation Heritage Award Winner 2013.

More on the merits of, well, ‘merit’…

As an animal lover I often carry food for the street cats and dogs –  this trip seemed an ideal opportunity to do so, not to benefit myself, but simply to help the poor critters.

As Buddhist see it, if we give food as an alms to animals, in terms of merit, we will receive very little. The reasons is that an animal occupy a lower position than human beings. The animals cannot observe religious precepts. Buddhists believe that observing precepts is moral training or a purification process. For the same reason, if we give alms to those people who do not have the 5 precepts in mind, for example mischievious people, we will receive very little merit, but more than offering to animals.

Still, a happy animal means (to me) a happy human! Now I see this in some perspective.

Admittedly, at the hottest time of year – Summer (March-June) it’s a tough call to make a large loop of the city but I can confirm that the sense of achievement and well-being after paying your respects at the ninth temple makes it all worthwhile. The downside to the wanderings is undoubtedly the heat. Hats, water and sun-umbrella’s are the must-have accessories.

TIPS:
Visiting nine temples for the first time? Try this itinerary, courtesy: MyBuddha108 website

9-wats-map

If you’re interested in the ways in which one can apply merit-making on a visit to Thailand (or anywhere in the world come to that) take a look at this link below:
Merit-Making pdf

Resources:
UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation

Sources:
*http://www.thaiwaysmagazine.com/thai_article/2118_ayutthaya_temples/ayutthaya_temples.html

Tree illustrations
http://www.colourbox.com
http://www.123rf.com

Warren’s links
1. Photo-library: Browse other images and/or purchase digital downloads for your home or business: http://warrenfield.com.au/
2. Warren Field Photography on FACEBOOK
3. National Geographic ‘Your Shot’

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Interior of Wat Ratchanadda.

© Warren Field 2014
Taken on OLYMPUS Zuiko lenses.

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